Gentleman Jim Capaldi: Traffic’s Freedom Rider

Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson

The late Jim Capaldi, lyricist/drummer/vocalist for the band Traffic, spent a good portion of his career playing second banana to the mega-talented Steve Winwood. His gregarious nature and willingness to jam at the drop of a drum stick earned him the nicknames “Gentleman Jim” and “Gentle Heart.” A talented vocalist in his own right, he fronted The Hellions in the early 60s with future Trafficker Dave Mason and later Deep Feeling, featuring future Spooky Tooth/Mott the Hoople guitarist Luther Grosvenor. Capaldi shifted back to playing drums when he formed Traffic with child prodigy Winwood, Mason and sax/flute/keyboard player Chris Wood in 1967. Capaldi’s lone lead vocal during the group’s first four albums was “Dealer,” an exotic mix of flamenco and folk included on the group’s debut “Mr. Fantasy.” Capaldi remained the group’s lyricist/drummer through Traffic’s fourth album, the classic “John Barleycorn Must Die,” released in 1970. Losing confidence in his abilities as a percussionist and wanting to stretch out as a performer, Capaldi became the group’s second vocalist/third percussionist and M.C. when Traffic added drummer Jim Gordon, bassist Rick Grech and percussionist Anthony “Reebop” Kwaku Baah to record the live “Welcome to the Canteen” and their magnum opus “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys.” Capaldi’s resonant R &B vocals on his solo composition “Light Up Or Leave Me Alone” and Grech/Gordon’s “Rock and Roll Stew” on “Low Spark” provided a pleasing contrast to Winwood’s saintly tones, and re-established Capaldi as a voice to be reckoned with. When Winwood was struck down by peritonitis and “Low Spark’s” follow up tour was curtailed, Capaldi continued to stoke his creative fires by recording his first solo album, “Oh How We Danced.” From 1972 until his death from stomach cancer on January 28, 2005, Capaldi would record thirteen solo albums. As a composer, he was a five time BMI/ASCAP award winner for most played compositions in America, penned “This Is Reggae Music” for Bob Marley, and had “Love Will Keep Us Alive” picked up by the Eagles for their “Hell Freezes Over Album.” He and his wife Aninha founded Jubilee Action, which aids homeless children in Brazil. By all accounts, Jim Capaldi was a real gentleman.

Oh How We Danced (5 out of 5 stars)

With so many past, present and future members of Traffic on board, “Oh How We Danced” was viewed as an extension of the group’s “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” album. But the eclectic 8-song collection served notice that Jim Capaldi was a superb writer, singer, arranger and producer in his own right.

Past members of Traffic were sprinkled throughout the album: Steve Winwood and Rebop appeared on three cuts, and Chris Wood and the ostracized Dave Mason were on a pair each as well. The group’s current line up (Capaldi, Winwood, Wood, Rick Grech, Jim Gordon and Rebop Kwaku Baah) were present for the very un-Traffic-like pop/gospel tune “Open Your Heart;” while future members Barry Beckett (keyboards), David Hood (bass) and Roger Hawkins (drums) did the majority of the heavy lifting. Other guest musicians lent their trademark sound to the mix. Former Free guitarist and high flying junkie Paul Kossoff’s writhing tremolo raises eyebrows whenever he appears, Spooky Tooth drummer Mike Kellie shows how effective subtly can be, and Harry Robinson turns the string section into an expression of Capaldi’s raw emotion.

The ballad “Eve” opens gently with Capaldi’s smoldering baritone and Barry Beckett’s simple piano accompaniment. Beckett begins to punch up the rhythm as Jimmy Johnson picks a pristine solo and wraps it around the buttery chords of Winwood’s Hammond. Drummer Roger Hawkins picks up the rhythmic baton, kicking up the tempo another notch as the Muscle Shoals horns bust in, transforming “Eve” from a contemplative ballad into full-blown Motown sway. “Eve” earned Capaldi widespread FM airplay in the U.S., reaffirming his newly established persona as a singer.

The mood shifts to smooth country with “Big Thirst.” Robinson’s strings sear like a San Antonio sun in August, estranged Traffic member Dave Mason plays a flawless lonesome prairie solo on harp, and Barry Beckett contributes a fading solo on organ at the song’s end that’s as smooth as a tall glass of spring water in a desert. Capaldi’s vocal is gunslinger steady and he’s supported on the chorus by Su and Sunny Whetman, the busiest and best back up singers in the business.

“Love Is All You Can Try” has a honky tonk/New Orleans flavor, thick, spicy and blissful. Beckett rides the keyboard with the ease of a man marinated in the soul of Fats Domino, while Winwood boogies confidently on guitar. The Muscle Shoals horns rise with good-time intent and Capaldi lets his alley cat persona loose, his tongue planted firmly in his cheek: “I asked a man for some directions, in the early morning frost. ‘I’m a stranger in this town’ he said, ‘To tell you the truth, we’re both quite lost.’ The temperature was slowly dropping, from our head down to our toes, and the only thing that I could see was the icicles around my nose. ‘Cause I’ve been to the end and back round again, and I know not how or why. But I do know love is free for the asking, and love, sweet love, is all you can try.”

Capaldi seldom played any instrument other than the drums on either Traffic’s albums or his own releases. On the intro to “The Last Day Of Dawn” he dons an acoustic guitar, shredding the strings as if he’s feeding them to a cheese grater. Rebop is in a controlled percussive fugue (for a man who always sounds like three men), and Harry Robinson’s string arrangement rises and falls like a fully loaded dive bomber. Capaldi’s doomsday lyrics drive home his desperation: “Can’t stop this feeling inside my heart. Can’t stop feeling that’s tearing me apart. It’s been with me ever since the day I was born, and it’ll be with me, on the last day of dawn.” P.S. the original L.P. version of this song had an extended intro by Capaldi. When I purchased the CD and discovered part of the intro was missing, I wrote Alan Robinson who honchoed the project to ask “Whassup?” He wrote back that the ravages of time had turned part of Gentleman Jim’s intro into dust. Pity.

The somber “Don’t Be A Hero” is the closest Capaldi gets to a wet blanket performance. Coming on the similarly themed but raucous “Last Day Of Dawn,” its lack of a pulse forces you to focus on its subtleties, such as Dave Mason’s white hot solo that melts into Harry Robinson’s fallen angel strings and Barry Beckett’s doomsday piano. “Don’t Be A Hero” isn’t a pleasant song, but it’s not meant to be.

At first listen, “Open Your Heart” appears to be a pedestrian pop ballad. The easy-going love song taps Traffic’s personnel from “The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys” period – Winwood (organ), Rebop (percussion), Wood (sax, but slightly buried in the mix), Rick Grech bouncing the beat on bass and a tranquil (likely tranquilized) Jim Gordon on drums. (“Open Your Heart” is probably an outtake from the “Low Spark” sessions, but the song’s catchy, breezy feel didn’t fit the album’s ecological theme and it was left out.) A rare treat is hearing Capaldi play the piano, something he never did in Traffic. Despite a slight gaffe at the end, you have to wonder why Capaldi didn’t tickle the ivories more often. Just when “Open Your Heart” threatens to become wishy-washy bubble gum, Rebop’s whistle signals a call to arms, switching the tone from pop to gospel. The band claps, stomps and shouts with uninhibited joy, and what could have been a filler tune becomes a highlight.

“How Much Can A Man Really Take?” is unique to the album both in terms of its approach and personnel. Traffic’s two free spirits, percussionist Rebop and Chris Wood are on board, along with light-finger finesse drummer Mike Kellie from Spooky Tooth, bassist Trevor Burton from the Move, session vet Bob Griffin on piano and Free’s slashing guitarist Paul Kossoff. Capaldi’s skill at turning a phase is in evidence throughout as he relates an exotic tale of a soul searching traveler: “How much can a man really take, when he’s pushed himself too far? He knows that his mind is on the break, and he’s trying to reach that star. How many times have I seen him fall? How many times too many to recall…Fate was about to deal him a card from the bottom of the pack. And he met his end in fair Nepal, with a dagger in his back…” Wood’s flute knife’s through the verses, and Kellie pings out a steady, non-intrusive beat with Rebop filling the empty spaces. As Capaldi’s vocal ends, Kossoff sails into the stratosphere, coaxing out a fiery tremolo that’s more convincing than any solo he ever played with Free.

Who knew a song co-written by Al Jolson could rock? (Yes, the same man who made black people cringe by carving a career out of wearing burnt cork and singing “Mammy”.) But “Oh How We Danced” is a rumbling powerhouse driven by David Hood’s Peter Gunn bass and a full out attack by the Muscle Shoals horns, who blast out of your speakers with enough power to blow the cork right off Jolie’s face. Kossoff is back with a fret burning solo and the arrangement rises out on a bed of cool with Capaldi clapping ecstatically and Wayne Thompson blowing hard on the sax.

Whale Meat Again (4 out of 5 stars)

Returning to the studio in 1974 amidst Traffic’s death throes, Capaldi gave the musicians he worked with freer reign to jam. As a result, “Whale Meat Again” contains only seven songs, one of which, the closer, “Summer Is Fading,” is over eight minutes long. Despite fattening the solos, Capaldi remained a cutting lyricist and maintained a keen sense of including something for everyone’s musical taste. “I’ve Got So Much Lovin’” is strutting, testosterone charged R & B in the realm of David Ruffin and Marvin Gaye mixed with Capaldi’s wry sense of humor: “Now people all over the world, are pretty much about the same. No matter what they are thinkin’ about, you can bet your life it’s some kinda game. I wanna tell you right now, that’s not the way it is with me. ‘Cause my head’s been turned so many, many times, it’s a wonder that I can see.” The Muscle Shoals horns are back to lend a party time atmosphere alongside a phalanx of hooting, hand-clapping ladies.

“Low Rider,” (not the song by War) is slower paced street funk with strings sawing through the arrangement much in the same way they made “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” crackle with tension. In the absence of Paul Kossoff, Pete Carr slices the guitar strings with a solo that has the deadly action of a Thompson submachine gun. Capaldi’s lyrics trace the rise and fall of a neighborhood bad boy: “Rider passed by the local sheriff. Sheriff chased him, started chasing him with his gun. The rider lost him on the backstreets, then he burned the town up just for fun. Sheriff got mad, said ‘I’m gonna get that rider.’ He couldn’t stand to see that rider running free. He told the deputy, ‘Go round up a posse.’ He said to meet him outside Smokey Joe’s Café... Rider came down, through the town, the sheriff’s men they cut him down. Low rider, now they’ve finally got your crown.”

“My Brother” is the album’s only dead fish, scuttled by Beckett’s overripe synthesizer that sounds like a skill saw cutting through scrap metal. The powerful platoon of horns and Chris Stewart’s fuzz bass nearly rescue “My Brother,” but Capaldi’s “don’t let the man get you down” lyrics are surprisingly run of the mill.

If “Summer Is Fading” sounds like it could be an outtake from a Traffic album, it’s because of the percussive pounding of Rebop Kwaku Baah. Originally from Ghana, Rebop had an amazing grasp of world rhythms and seemingly boundless reservoirs of energy. Couple him with drummer Gaspar Lawal, add in spacey turns on the Hammond by Steve Winwood (who also plucks like James Jamerson on bass) and an appropriately world-weary vocal by Capaldi and you’ve got a memorable jam.

“It’s All Right” is the opener, a coy stab at pop with a bouncy beat produced by the combination of Steve Winwood on pipe organ, Roger Hawkins on drums and Barry Beckett on steel drum. Capaldi croons sweetly, while Pete Carr unspools a spiraling solo on acoustic guitar against a backdrop of Doris Day strings. Jim’s “gentle heart” is on display for all to hear.

Capaldi’s pun-adorned title track takes his reverence for the ecology and turns it into nasty, horn blaring blues. Carr deals out a series of blistering riffs against Capaldi’s hash criticism of the whaling industry: “Scientists are saying we’ve got do something soon, but sitting around talking about it ain’t gonna stop that harpoon. Whale meat again, when will it end? Not till everything is dead.” Not Capaldi’s sweetest sentiments, but this slime and blubber we’re talking about here. Following the innocence of “It’s All Right,” this hits you with the force of one of Captain Ahab’s hard steel harpoons.

“Yellow Sun” is Gentleman Jim as the romantic cowboy, a companion piece to “Big Thirst” on his first album. Riding the range on a bed of strings, Capaldi mourns a dead romance. Beckett saddles up with a high stepping piano solo and Carr makes his dobro sound as if it’s being played by the loneliest cowpoke on the prairie. “Yellow Sun” is a showcase for Capaldi the singer, whose voice conveys the need for the mellow warmth of someone’s love.

Short Cut, Draw Blood” (4 out of 5 stars)

“Short Cut, Draw Blood” marked a beginning and an end. It marked the end of Traffic, which had slowly ground to a halt amidst Chris Wood’s increasing alcoholism and Steve Winwood’s malaise. It also celebrated the proper beginning of Jim Capaldi as a solo artist.

Now embroiled in full ecological warfare with “The Man,” Capaldi penned two ecological Armageddon pieces, “Living On a Marble,” and the title track. Both were preachy incitements that Save The Whales should have adopted as their mantra. Unfortunately, lines like “I’m tellin’ you that short cut’s gonna draw blood, and you’re gonna get your face pushed in the mud,” don’t necessarily make for great entertainment. The two septic shockers aside, the rest of the album blends ballads, sambas, reggae and soul quite nicely. It also features one of Capaldi’s biggest hits, an up-tempo version of “Love Hurts” that reached #4 in the U.K. (Capaldi’s progress in the U.S. was stymied by Nazareth’s overwrought take that clogged the airwaves.)

Although Traffic was at a standstill, all the latest members of the band appeared on the album. Rebop goes percussion mad on “Keep On Tryin’,” a Brazilian based goof that also features a street carnival trumpet solo from Rico Rodrigues. Chris Wood makes his final appearance on a Capaldi album with the closing “Seagull,” a wistful ballad, with the seafaring bird serving as a metaphor for freedom. Winwood adds acoustic guitar, mellotron and touches of harpsichord that blend together with the sound effect of cresting waves hitting the shore. Wood leaves a lasting, unsettling impression, his frail, far away flute musings sounding like a lost soul. Sadly, by now Wood was indeed a living ghost. He would eventually lose his battle with substance abuse, succumbing to pneumonia and liver disease in 1983, never completing his long-anticipated solo album, “Vulcan,” which he’d started when Traffic broke up in 1974.“Seagull” stands as a testament to his sensitive talents and as a eulogy for Traffic. When Capaldi sings “Fly away over the sun, fly away over the moon,” Wood’s sad, airy flute rises alongside, climbing like the little engine that could, but you know won’t.

The string laden “Boy With A Problem” was first thought to be about Free guitarist Paul Kossoff, Wood’s kindred party spirit in rock and roll excess. But the “silver stick” Capaldi refers to in the lyrics can only be interpreted as Wood’s flute, and the rest of the tale refers to a man enthralled with John Barleycorn (as Wood was) rather than a pill popper (which was Kossoff’s forte): “He tries so hard to keep himself together, but he’s so weak he can barely lift a feather. And it looks as though it’s gonna be bad weather, when he comes down from the clouds.” If there had been the type of rehab resorts for rockers that there are today, Wood certainly would have been a candidate. (I once had the pleasure of watching him careen off the stage in the middle of his solo for “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys.” Capaldi threw his drum sticks at him out of frustration.) Who knows how many albums Traffic might have recorded if Wood had taken the cure? On “Boy With A Problem,” Harry Robinson’s doom and gloom string section cuts through Capaldi’s damning lyrics like the Grim Reaper’s sharp scythe, making it one of the most powerful songs about self-abuse you’ll ever hear.

The albums first two tracks, “Goodbye Love” and “It’s All Up To You,” could have been hits if properly promoted. Still unsure of himself as a drummer, Gentleman Jim relies on a drum machine to carry the beat in “Goodbye Love,” punctuated by Rebop and Remi Kabaka on percussion. Ray Allen’s sax is a cool breeze, and although it would have been good to hear Chris Wood take this on, Wood was a jazzer, a rocker, and a great interpreter of folk music, but the type of soulful swagger “Goodbye Love” calls for wasn’t his strong suit. A sound-alike to Carole King’s “It’s Too Late,” “Goodbye Love” puts guest musician Steve Winwood back in the function of Captain Many Hands as he handles piano, organ, guitar and a fudgey bass.

The musicians on board for “It’s All Up To You” indicate it was an older song he recorded on the fly with session players. But Capaldi chose them well: John “Rabbit” Bundrick (Free/The Who) on piano and clavinet, Phil Chen (Rod Stewart) on bass and Jess Roden (The Alan Bown) on guitar, with the omnipresent Harry Robinson providing the string arrangements. Capaldi casts himself as a downcast, smitten man who tells his lover, “I wanna give you my love, could you ever love me to? But you never seem to notice me or what I’m going through…It’s all up to you.”

“Short Cut, Draw Blood” is capped by two covers Capaldi re-worked and rearranged, giving them new life. The hit “Love Hurts” bounces, thanks to Gerry Conway thwacking the cymbals with emphatic pleasure, Harry Robinson’s smartly cinematic strings, and the double electric piano attack of Jean Roussel and Steve Winwood. The remake of the reggae classic “Johnny Too Bad,” featuring Peter Yarrow (The Peter of Peter, Paul and Mary fame) on acoustic guitar, has an endearing accompaniment – on spoons – by Roger Hawkins, ska-like horns, and a carefree vocal by Capaldi. Ja mon, it’s a winner.

An appreciative fan of South American music, Capaldi became an expatriate in 1977 when he married Brazilian model Aninha. From 1978 to 1983, Jim Capaldi was more of an itinerant composer than a bona fide solo artist. He left the safety of Island Records to produce “The Contender,” (3 out of 5 stars) the sound track to a boxing film starring Hedgemon Lewis. The lack of a widespread release of the film in the U.S. negated the need to promote the release as a soundtrack. Oddly, instead of removing the songs from the soundtrack, wholesale changes were made to the tracks not in the movie. When the album came out in the U.S., the distributor, RSO, pinned its hopes on the burgeoning disco scene, renaming the album after the danceable Daughter of the Night” (3 out of 5 stars). Omitted from the U.S. version was a passable, slick version of “Sealed With a Kiss,” an obvious ploy for Capaldi to score a hit with another oldie in England; and “Dirty Business,” a track that sounded way too much like “Jumping Jack Flash” for comfort. “The Game of Love,” was the most heinous omission, a teary lament and one of Capaldi’s most affecting -- and honest – assessments of love gone bad. The songs were replaced in the U.S. by the disco pounders “Stay With You,” and “A Good Love,” and the hedonistic “I’m Gonna Do It,’ with Steve Winwood sweating up the guitar strings, which was as close to an R-rated grunter as Gentleman Jim ever got. The end result was a confused public.

Capaldi’s follow up on RSO, “Electric Nights(2 out of 5 stars), came out a year later in 1979. The weak material indicated Gentleman Jim needed a break; with only the autobiographical “Hotel Blues,” the snarling “Wild Dogs” and the plaintive “Wild Geese” salvageable. At least Capaldi was occasionally back on the drums. Dropped by RSO, Capaldi put out the much improved “Sweet Smell of Success” (3 ½ stars out of 5) on the French LaCarre label in 1980. Despite containing an intriguing acoustic version of “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys,” the Spanish dancer beat of “Man With No Country” and telling the story of Traffic’s demise in “Every Man Must March To The Beat Of His Own Drum,” thanks to its limited distribution, the album barely had a whiff of success. A similar fate befell 1981’s Let The Thunder Cry,” (2 ½ stars out of 5) a startling example of what was right and wrong with Capaldi’s career at that point (a little too much artistic freedom). Capaldi waxed an unnecessary by the numbers version of “Louie, Louie,” but luckily he only wasted 2:27. He saved his excess for “Bathroom Jane,” a tedious, pun-filled morass that should have been flushed instead of dragging itself out to 9:17. In between were ballads that showed promise (“Warm,” “Old Photographs” “Child In a Storm”) but they were all a bit heavy handed. If all the tunes were as striking as the Simon Kirke war-drum driven title track, “Let the Thunder Cry” wouldn’t have been so uneven. Capaldi finally took a two-year break and it helped get the creative juices flowing again, because 1983’s “Fierce Heart” was return to the stylistic brilliance of Gentleman Jim’s first three albums.

Fierce Heart (5 out of 5 stars)

The spirited sales of “Fierce Heart” reestablished Capaldi in the American market. After a slew of blasé albums on a variety of labels, Capaldi landed a deal with Atlantic Records. His first effort owed a huge debt to friend and former band mate Steve Winwood, so much so that if Winwood had insisted on equal billing no one would have complained. With Winwood taking on guitar, bass and keyboards, “Fierce Heart” has a sound similar to his current album, “Talking Back To The Night.”

“Fierce Heart” was such a labor of love for the two old friends that Winwood’s wife Nicole even joined in on background vocals, and Van Morrison, who dropped in for a visit, played acoustic guitar on the opener “Tonight Your Mine.” The song slithers like a limo easing down a slick city street on a dark night. It’s smooth and sophisticated, with Capaldi’s vocal processed to give it a dark quality. It’s a bit dated perhaps, but cool is cool.

The album yielded the surprise hook laden hit “That’s Love,” which glided along on Winwood’s synthesizers and Capaldi’s sympathetic vocal. One of the album’s highlights that should have been a single is “Back At My Place,” a sexy ballad with Barry White intentions enveloped in California sand and sun. Winwood’s synthesizer gleams, emitting an agile, feline beat as Capaldi croons like a beach blanket Dean Martin. With its languid beat and slurpy Mel Collins sax, the sweaty “I’ll Always Be Your Fool” is “The Postman Rings Twice,” set to music, a simmering story of a simp who continually gets burned by love and keeps coming back for more. Capaldi plays “the burning man,” to Stevie Lange’s “burning woman,” and it doesn’t take long to figure out what these two kids are getting so steamed up about.

“Fierce Heart” found Capaldi returning to his drum chair, but its former Spooky Tooth time keeper Bryson Graham who pounds confidently on “Bad Breaks” and “Runaway,” with Winwood’s instantly recognizable choir boy vocals in the background. “Living On the Edge” was the album’s other successful hit. Winwood’s sizzling as a frying pan keyboard work drips with a lysergic influence of the “mescalito song” as Capaldi’s percussion clomps along with the pace of a faithful burro. “Gifts of Unknown Things” leads the listener down a more mysterious, unmapped path, exploring the mysteries of the Incas.

Sticking with Atlantic Records, Capaldi produced a strong follow up to “Fierce Heart,” 1984s One Man Mission” (4 out of 5 stars). With a supporting cast that included Small Faces/Humble Pie leader Steve Marriott, Carlos Santana, and Simon Kirke, Capaldi didn’t have to see through his mission completely alone. “Lost Inside Your Love,” written with the Santana band, featured Carlos’ trademark screaming bird solo, while “Nobody Loves You” matched Capaldi with the considerable singing talents of veteran songwriter Kenny Lynch. In the mystical “Warriors of Love,” Capaldi revisits his pent up despair over the plight of the American Indian, while “Tonight,” a cut originally on “Sweet Smell of Success” gets remade into a tight rocker thanks to Kirke gargantuan kicks on the bass drum and Peter Bonas’ enlivening guitar. Only one mission fails. “Young Savages” The Teddy Boy tough guy duet with Steve Marriott is unintelligible and wastes of Marriott’s bluesy register.

It would be another four years, an unusually long period for Capaldi, before the release of Some Come Running,” (3 ½ out of 5 stars) in 1988 found him back home on Island Records. An impressive list of first rate musicians, including Steve Winwood, George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Mick Ralphs and Rosko Gee helped make some average material memorable. Capaldi’s voice and range improved during the lay off and he registers strong, sensuous vocals on “Voices In the Night,” and “Love Used to Be A Friend of Mine,” but the albums jewel is the title track, a song that sounds as if it was written about his long standing friendship with Winwood: “You’re not alone in the times when we’re apart. You should know that your name’s written in my heart. And when the storm is raging and no one hears the sound, don’t need to ask me twice, my feet won’t touch the ground. Some come running, all in the name of love. Some come running, some just turn and walk away. Some come running, I was born that way. You know I’ll never give up on you.” Floating on a backdrop of synthesizers, “Some Come Running,” is a soothing somewhat melancholy piece; you’ll smile in appreciation of two the old friend’s musical bond when Winwood does a call and response with Capaldi.

The Long Silence

After “Some Come Running” Capaldi concentrated on charity work, song writing and the possibility of a Traffic reunion. In 1993 the reunion became a reality, as he and Winwood recorded “Far From Home” under the Traffic moniker then assembled a new version of the band for a worldwide tour, (including Woodstock ’94). Capaldi was back at his kit, driving the music, the years of exposure to South American music and drum clinics having paid off. A reconstituted Traffic toured the U.S. for five months, headlining 75 shows before Winwood’s restlessness cut the reunion short.

Although Winwood spat on the ground Dave Mason slithered on, Capaldi had always maintained his friendship with the me-first guitarist, so it wasn’t a surprise when the duo toured together in 1998, producing the live CD 40,000 Headmen Tour (3 out 5 stars). What was surprising was some of the things Capaldi said about Winwood in the press. Angered that Traffic had bypassed South American and feeling the band had packed it in again too soon, Capaldi chided Winwood for being lazy and bohemian. Given Mason’s churlish personality, it didn’t take long for Capaldi to reverse his train of thought and beg off the second leg of his tour. (Personal aside… I met both Gentleman Jim and Mason backstage after their concert in Tarrytown, New York. Capaldi was polite but heading out the door. Mason, sitting all alone at a table, actually invited me to sit down with him and enjoy some of the post-concert snacks. He warned me in advance not to talk about “That keyboard player,” but loved talking about Mick Fleetwood, who’d put him up and gave him a gig in his band when Mason was financially strapped.)

In the meantime, seven years passed between solo releases for Capaldi. Recorded in fits and spurts in Germany, 2001’s Living on the Outside” (3 out of 5 stars) shows Capaldi still had plenty to say. The nostalgic Mersey Beat single, “Anna Julia,” featured pals George Harrison and Paul Weller in what would be one of Harrison’s last appearances. “Heart of Stone,” put Gary Moore, one of rock’s muscle-headed guitarists in the forefront. Elsewhere, drummer Ian Paice of Deep Purple and the ever dependable Winwood made appearances. Capaldi’s biting cynicism is back in evidence in the title track, a backhanded swipe at the cell phone generation: “Creepin’ down the alley, searchin’ through the trash. You used to own your own chalet, before the market crashed. Now your clothes are torn and dirty, and your face is lookin’ mean. Valentino and Versace, it was such an ugly scene. When you were living on the inside, the inside, where you thought you had to be. But I’m livin’ on the outside, the outside, and it don’t bother me.”

Not So Lucky 13
The End for Gentleman Jim

Traffic was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 15, 2004. Winwood, Capaldi and even Dave Mason were there, but when it came time to perform “Dear Mr. Fantasy” Mason stood on the sidelines, insulted that he’d been asked to play bass instead of guitar. The continued enmity between Winwood and Mason didn’t dampen the evening for Capaldi, who was recognized for being as responsible for Traffic’s sound as Winwood. In November, Capaldi released his thirteenth, and last solo album.

Poor Boy Blue” (4 out of 5 stars) was a strong coda to a long career. The title track is a combination of Mississippi delta blues and gut bucket rock in the tradition of Z.Z. Top’s “La Grange” – co-writer Bryson Graham assaults the drums with the same decibel breaking fury he used on Spooky Tooth’s “Cotton Growing Man.” Capaldi knew he wasn’t going to be able to look “Into the Void,” without getting caught up in its life-ending vortex, so the song is rightfully dark with Capaldi’s vocal is gruff and nightmarish: “Into the void, into the void, into the void we all go.” “California Sunset” harkens back to the romantic west coast sound of “Back At My Place” from “Fierce Heart,” while the power ballad “Edge of Love” is saturated with a late 80s approach along the lines of Eddie Money’s “Take Me Home Tonight.” “Getting Stronger” with its “All Right Now” beat (provided by Simon Kirke who played on it) is a Capaldi keeper featuring the ironic line “I’m getting’ stronger everyday.” Staring death in the face, Capaldi addressed the subject of mortality in “Bright Fighter,” “Into the Void,” and “I’ve Been Changing.”

When Jim Capaldi passed away in January 2005, no one was surprised that only a short time before, he and Steve Winwood had been talking about reforming Traffic.



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